Business Casual: Creating Jobs – Really?

If you had a dollar for every time you’ve heard the phrase “creating jobs,” you’d probably have enough cash to start your own company, employ a few people and make a dent in Georgia’s troublingly high unemployment rate.

Everything from retrofitting state-owned properties with low-flow toilets (actually a pretty good idea that surfaced during last year’s gubernatorial campaign) to cutting government spending (certainly not a bad idea, but as always in need of some specifics) seems to get slapped with the “more jobs” label by proponents. Funding for one’s own pet projects will always create jobs, as will de-funding other people’s favorite programs. My party’s ideas are job creators; yours are job killers.

The jobs-creation phrase has been so overused and misused that it barely registers, much like other terms that have had their own periods of over-exposure – “family values” and, reaching back a few years, “law and order” come to mind. Noble sentiments, but wielded so often as weapons rather than held up as goals that they have all but lost their meaning.

Semantic quibbling aside, the frequency with which you hear the familiar “Jobs!” cheer might lead you to believe that job creation is easy, and the truth is that it is not.

Georgia Trend editors and writers spend a lot of time talking with economic developers around the state. These are the folks who work for economic development commissions, in-dustrial development authorities, chambers of commerce or local or state governments. They are on the front lines, helping expand existing businesses and bringing in new companies.

Last fall, our magazine convened an economic development roundtable in Macon attended by representatives from Middle Georgia and Metro Atlanta; the year before we held a similar discussion in Bartow County for representatives from Northwest Georgia. (Stories developed from the panels appeared in the January 2011 and September 2009 issues.)

On both occasions we asked questions about job losses and job creation and listened carefully to the answers. Roundtable participants were not seeking to score rhetorical points or glibly rattling off economic statistics. They were speaking of and for real people facing real difficulties.

An economic developer from Middle Georgia spoke with particular feeling about the plight of people in her community who had lost their jobs when a large manufacturer moved its plant to Mexico. Many of the suddenly unemployed had spent 20 or 30 years at the plant and had never held any other jobs. Their prospects are bleak. She said she would have been surprised five years before if you had told her she would have worked so hard – and been so pleased when she was successful – to land a large grocery store for the area.

Northwest Georgia economic developers, of course, talked about the carpet industry. Even communities that are seeing some recovery are facing the fact that production volume may be increasing but the number of jobs will never be what it once was.

And in more fortunate locations like West Georgia, the good news doesn’t entirely mitigate the bad. The Kia plant in West Point will eventually bring some 13,700 new jobs, but even that impressive number won’t entirely make up for textile and other manufacturing jobs lost in recent years.

The hard-working economic developers we come into contact with take their responsibilities very seriously. For them, “job creation” is not just a catchphrase tossed out randomly when there is a lull in the conversation. They understand that they are dealing with real people’s livelihoods and that success on a project may mean a difference in the way their neighbors live their lives and raise their children.

Every ribbon-cutting represents countless hours of meetings filled with proposals, discussions and negotiations and hundreds of phone calls, emails, text messages and personal conversations. Some efforts don’t bear fruit. Some do.

When there’s a triumph to announce, it’s not just a way to keep score. It’s a tangible benefit to their communities.

Their efforts really do create jobs. But it’s a lot harder than some folks would have you believe.

Categories: Business Casual